The Weaver's Fee
By Jamie J. Gooch
Jirgan sat in the dark cellar. His hands were tied behind his back. A rag that smelled of sweat and vomit — neither of them his — was crammed in his mouth and held tight with rope. He could hear them coming.
He had somehow escaped the Circle of Dust during the Night of Fire. Even more amazing, Lor’anne had survived as well. He had used his magic to find her. They were finally going to be together, or so he thought. They found a group of survivors who let them into their makeshift village. They were able to keep his talents a secret all through the Long Winter. Then that kid — that damned kid — decided to play on a ruined wall and fell. Her skull was cracked open. She was dying.
Jirgan would have let her die. He had certainly done worse while working for the Nine. But the thought didn’t cross Lor’anne’s mind. He knew she would never look at him the same way if he didn’t heal the girl. He hoped the people he had been living with for more than a year would accept his help.
He placed one hand on the girl’s head and another over his heart as he chanted the words that would transfer part of his life force to her. Black flames crackled along his arm in waves, closing the girl’s wounds as it healed her and injured him. It hurt more than he expected. The magic was out of his control. He heard Lor’anne scream. Everything went black.
He had been bound, gagged and imprisoned by the villagers ever since. They told him Lor’anne was safe, and would stay safe if he cooperated. The village’s self-appointed mayor, Hurek, and a few of his men would come to get Jirgan. It was always at night. He assumed they didn’t want anyone to know they were using his “dark magic” for their own purposes. Once he was told to heal a dying woman. Once he had to help clear a field of tangle vines by draining the life from the thorny plants.
But it wasn’t the mayor who opened the door this time. It was Evelyn, the mother of the girl he had saved.
“We haven’t got much time,” she said in a whisper as she began cutting the straps tied around his wrists.
Jirgan pulled the gag out of his mouth as soon as his hands were free. “Where’s Lor’anne?”
Tears streamed down Evelyn’s face. “She’s dead,” she sobbed. “They killed her. She was trying to get you out and they killed her. They’re coming. You need to go.”
Evelyn rushed toward the door, but Jirgan grabbed her arm and spun her back around. “Did they burn her?”
“No,” the woman said, a confused look on her face. “They buried her, in the graveyard with the others. We have to go.”
“When?” he called after her, but the frightened woman was already out of sight.
Jirgan did not follow her. He loosely tied the gag around his head, put his hands behind his back and waited.
Hurek and two of his men opened the door. They peeked in, as they always did, then opened the door fully.
Jirgan spit the gag out, lifted his arms and chanted the words that would steal their life. He had never attempted to drain three people. Black flames crackled around the three men and leapt back to him. The men dropped to the ground, out cold. Jirgan dropped to his knees, fighting unconsciousness. The pain of Burn subsided, but the pain of loss remained.
He used Hurek’s dagger and slit the man’s throat. He bound and gagged the others, then went in search of a shovel.
The fresh dirt gave Jirgan hope as he dug. The longer she was dead, the more difficult the spell. If it went awry ...
He pulled Lor’anne’s corpse from the hole. He brushed dirt off her face and knocked beetles and worms from her body. At least they had closed her eyes.
No one had raised an alarm. Jirgan cradled the body of his beloved in his arms as he carried her back to the cellar.
The men had regained consciousness. Jirgand could see the fear in their eyes.
“It’s exactly what you think,” he said.
The men began to scream into their gags.
Jirgan gently placed Lor’anne’s body on the floor, grabbed the two men by their necks and began to chant. They struggled at first, and then were still. Weakened by the effort, Jirgan continued the spell. He held Lor’anne by the hands and began to transfer the men’s life into her. But it was a tap that he couldn’t shut off. It burned, and then the world went black.
He woke, moments later, lying face to face with Lor’anne. Her eyes were open. “Lor’anne?” he whispered.
She stared at him, dead inside, a mindless darkness in the wells of her eyes. She reached for him.
Jirgan began to weep and drew his dagger with a trembling hand.